Clinical Nurse Specialist Certification and Certificate Programs

Working registered nurses (RN) can enter Clinical Nurse Specialist (CNS) certificate programs to gain specialized education and training for potential career advancement.

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Essential Information

A clinical nurse specialist is a RN who has shown competency in a specific area of nursing care. CNS certificate programs can be completed in 1-2 years and are primarily available via 4-year education institutions. Students study advance practice nursing theory, diagnostic reasoning, and participate in a practicum. Program participants can choose from a number of specialties, including diabetes management, gerontology, family practice, adult health, pediatrics and community health.

CNS certificate programs are post-master's programs, and therefore require incoming candidates to have at least a Master of Science in Nursing degree.

Clinical Nursing Certification

Applicants require previous training from a program that has accreditation from a commission such as the National League for Nursing Accreditation Commission or the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Education in CNS certificate programs is centered on advanced nursing practices and practica. Specific courses vary based on a student's chosen specialty. Common courses may include:

  • Advanced health assessment
  • Advanced pharmacology
  • Resource development & financial management
  • Evidence-based practice
  • Research methodology
  • Pathophysiology

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

Employment growth for registered nurses, which includes advanced practice nurses, should be excellent according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), with a growth rate of 16% from 2014 to 2024. Nurses who are willing to work in medically underserved locations such as rural areas and inner cities will have some of the best job opportunities. Most nurses will continue to work in hospitals, but doctor's offices and home healthcare services will also see employment of RNs increase rapidly throughout the decade.

According to, clinical nurse specialists earn a wide range of salaries, with annual earnings ranging from $61,470 to $117,781. For clarification, the BLS reports that the mean annual salary for RNs was $71,000 as of 2015. CNS earnings are included in those RN figures. In California, there were more nurses employed than any other state, and on average they earned the highest salaries as well.

Professional Certification and Continuing Education

Graduates holding CNS certificates should be prepared for certification examination offered through the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC). The ANCC has certification exams for several nursing specialties, such as pediatrics and adult health. Certification candidates must have an advanced nursing degree or post-graduate certificate and a valid nursing license. Continuing education is required every five years in order to maintain certification. Additionally, the ANCC offers career enrichment and professional organization affiliations for medical professionals.

CNS certification programs help RNs specialize in a variety of nursing techniques so they can move up in their careers and provide the best care possible. Certification examinations are required after completing the program, with continuing education courses to keep your knowledge up to date and prepare for recertification every five years.

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